That one word pretty much sums up the biggest and most pleasant surprise the Surface Pro 4 has thrown at us so far. Yes, it is really a Windows 10 feature – the ability to log in by just looking at the display rather than a fingerprint scanner or a password. And we have have seen something similar in the past as well: remember those Lenovo devices that used to come with facial recognition using the front facing camera in the early Windows Vista days (and which got cursed thoroughly because they added some more seconds to what was an already tedious boot up process)? But what makes Windows Hello really special on the Surface Pro 4 is the speed at which it works – just be in front of the display and the device logs you in within seconds. So much so that it has actually become a sort of party trick – restart the Surface and then see the device recognize you and see people go “wow!” Evidently you need special cameras to get the most out of Windows Hello – a few of our colleagues have struggled to get it going on their relatively low-budget devices – and is that is the case, the Surface Pro 4 certainly ticks the camera box. We have to concede that logging into a device was never, well, cooler.
No less cool is the ease with which the Surface Pro 4 slips into the slot of a notebook. The Surface Type Cover attaches to the Surface Pro 4 with a reassuring clunk and well, the keyboard is quite a treat to use. It is very thin and is actually much lighter than the one that accompanies the iPad Pro (mainly because it does not have to worry about propping up the tablet – the Surface tablets always come with a kickstand, something the iPads have never had), but remarkably has more rows of keys, complete with the function keys right on top. We had taken some time to get used to the smart keyboard on the iPad Pro, simply because the keys did not have the “clicky” feeling or the “travel” that lets you know that you have struck them. No such problems with the Surface and the Type Cover.
Into our second day of using the keyboard, we would say that it is the best way we have used this side of the ones on the ThinkPad (those remain our favorites) and at times even give those worthies a run for their money. Our tasks on day two with device were limited to word processing, and it was an absolute joy to type using MS Word, that old faithful. Mind you, we could not help but notice that MS Word on the Surface is a lot less touch-friendly than Pages is on the iPad, but then one does have the trackpad to help one out. And a very good trackpad it is too in terms of response – do not be taken in by relatively small size. Yes, the Surface Pro 4 is more a notebook than the iPad Pro ever will be.
What it, however, will NOT be, is a laptop. In the literal sense of the word. For in an irony of design that is right up there with the Apple Pencil’s inability to attach itself to the iPad Pro, the Surface Pro 4 with the Type Cover is almost impossible to balance comfortably on any surface other than a desk – we tried keeping it on our laps in a car, and on our blanket in our bed, and well, it just rocked around far too much for comfort, and keeled over more than once. A bit of fiddling with the kickstand seemed to improve matters, but at no stage did we really feel comfortable with it placed on our laps, which is a bit of an irony for such an amazingly portable device – yes, I know we said so yesterday as well, but we still cannot get over how compact the Surface Pro 4 is, especially with the keyboard cover on.
No, we have not really pushed it on its second day, thanks to too much writing being on the agenda – the games and multimedia and the Surface Pen indeed will be duly given a work out in the days that follow. But in two days of usage, the Surface Pro 4 has shown itself to be a very dab hand at most regular notebook tasks – the display is great for browsing the Web, although we would recommend increasing font sizes a bit if you read a lot, as well as watching videos, and the sound quality on the speakers is very good (you can do a presentation in a small room without having to rely on external speakers). The USB port for which Microsoft sacrificed a millimeter or two of tablet slimness has already shown its utility by handling a few flash drives bearing press releases and imagery. And it is quite fast – boot-ups occur in about 15 seconds and shut downs are also quick, and well, we saw no lags whatsoever as we moved between websites, videos and Word files.
We also saw the slightly more eccentric side of Windows – the Flipboard app (which looks gorgeous) suddenly crashed and then refused to open, claiming it was under “maintenance” (that’s a new one in our book) and there was the time when the file on which this article was written simply refused to get saved (the ‘Not Responding’ message popped up dutifully). We also found the fact that the device’s Wi-Fi seemed to take a bit of time to recognize the Wi-Fi hotspot created by our Android device slightly surprising. A restart – and as we said they ARE quick on this device – generally fixed matters. Battery life remained formidable – we went down to forty percent after using it intermittently between 9 am and 8 pm. It is not quite in iPad Pro land in that department but is not too far off it, either.
And that was it for the second Day of the Surface Pro 4 diaries. The fact that we hardly ever realized that we had switched from our regular notebook while working on it tells you just how smoothly it fit into our routine. We did however realise that things were different whenever we picked it up (so light), restarted it (ever so fast) and especially every time we brought it out of sleep mode and saw the display show that magic word within seconds.